Innovative solutions to address future staffing issues were one of the key topics addressed at the Arab Hotel Investment Conference in Dubai.
Jonathan Worsley, co-organizer of AHIC, believes staffing levels is one of the biggest challenges of today’s market. “The Middle East alone has demands for more than 1.5 million staff by 2020 and the aviation sector alone will require 200,000 additional pilots over the coming two decades,” he said.
The emirates growing need for skilled workers and high-level executives is taking its toll on the continuously expanding airline and hospitality businesses. As the real estate boom in hotels and condos gets out of control, staff accommodation and the high standard of living becomes an issue with hired overseas labor.
Jumeirah Group executive chairman Gerald Lawless said one solution would be to attract more and more nationals and Arab speakers in to the employment pool: “Guests like this (to interact with locals) and many expect it,” he said, adding that initiatives such as the US$10 billion fund for education in the Arab world recently announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, were a great step forward in preparing the region for the huge growth in the hospitality sector and its attendant staffing requirements.
“It is in our interest to develop vocational institutes and training facilities here in the region, at all levels of the industry – and there is potential to invest in satellite facilities in source labor countries too,” Lawless said.
Accor Hospitality managing director Christophe Landais said that the hotel industry is facing serious problems in its workforce. He said, “The staffing challenge is one that the whole industry if experiencing. Our main issue is how to hold on to the high-service levels that we have achieved across the region. Inconsistencies in service quality will be detrimental for Dubai as a tourist destination.”
“Our only challenge for Dubai as a destination is staffing though we have one of the best locations on the globe. Two areas which we need to look at seriously are service and value. Service from the hotel industry point-of-view to a general point-of-view, has not improved over the years. Standards I have seen have actually decreased in Dubai. That is an area we need to look at as we are expanding rapidly with hundreds of thousands of travelers coming to our destination,” said Gerhard Hardick, Roya International’s director.
Tom Meyer, area general manager for Intercontinental Hotels Group, said he believes that the global approach will be a great help in recruiting the right mix of internationally and locally-experienced people. “Due to the massive growth of the hotel industry in Dubai, it is getting more and more difficult to recruit talented individuals locally. However, we have resources internationally and will draw on these to create a good balance.”
Hardick added, “Dubai as destination is starting to become a little bit feisty. I am not worried about that if it were just a question of supply and demand. But Dubai as a merchant city has always balanced itself out – so that when all these hotels come on stream, it’s not fair to say Dubai will collapse. It will carry on but may not experience high increases in value and service, but this will be a question of adjustment.”
This approach was endorsed by Accor chief operating officer and Sofitel CEO Yann Carriere. According to him, the group had established 15 Accor academies worldwide to fulfill its staffing needs as it expands globally. “In Morocco, for example, where we have 25 hotels, we train staff locally then send them overseas for experience before returning them to Morocco – in this way, we can be perceived as a ‘local’ operator – where 23 out of the 25 general managers are Moroccan nationals,” he said.
Wadad Suwayeh, Oqyana Limited said, “We have almost a hotel within the utility island accommodating 2500 staff. It’s within 300 meters away from the development. We have accommodation ‘in-land’. We are mixing the staff accommodation with the rest of the utility guarded by a security and hazard team – due to the huge number of people living in the same complex. We have the allocation but we have not had approvals yet,” he said saying that the staff housing is almost like a 1-star hotel.
Arif Mubarak, CEO of Bawadi, said their staff housing situation is different. “We have broken down the 10-kilometer boulevard into 10 million hubs. Every single hub will have its own staff accommodation with centralized service including new kitchen, laundry, storage etc. It’s just about 15 minutes of driving to pick up every single employee to his hotel.” The Bawadi chair said they ensure that they can be linked to their work sites easily.
Another challenge opening up was poaching of staff, according to Lawless who warned this could develop in to a major issue as more hotels opened up in Dubai and around the region. “Jumeirah is a target for new operators who want trained staff,” he said. “Headhunting is rife and it is important for us to deliver as an employer of choice and this will become easier as we expand since we will be able to offer an international career path, where we could not in the past.”